Since 2016, there has been an explosion of interest in misinformation and its role in elections. Research by news outlets, government agencies, and academics alike has shown that millions of Americans have been exposed to dubious political news online. However, relatively little research has focused on documenting the effects of consuming this content. Our results suggest that many claims about the effects of exposure to false news may be overstated, or, at the very least, misunderstood.
Online disinformation is considered a major challenge for modern democracies. It is widely understood as misleading content produced to generate profits, pursue political goals, or maliciously deceive. Our starting point is the assumption that some countries are more resilient to online disinformation than others. To understand what conditions influence this resilience, we choose a comparative cross-national approach. In the first step, we develop a theoretical framework that presents these country conditions as theoretical dimensions. In the second step, we translate the dimensions into quantifiable indicators that allow us to measure their significance on a comparative cross-country basis. In the third part of the study, we empirically examine eighteen Western democracies. A cluster analysis yields three country groups: one group with high resilience to online disinformation (including the Northern European systems, for instance) and two country groups with low resilience (including the polarized Southern European countries and the United States). In the final part, we discuss the heuristic value of the framework for comparative political communication research in the age of information pollution.
In recent years, concerns about the perceived increase in the amount of “fake news” have become prevalent in discussions about media and politics, particularly in the United States and Europe. However, debates around “fake news”, even if some object to the use of the term due to it being loosely defined, appear to speak of processes that occur not only in the Global North but also elsewhere. In Africa, mis- and disinformation campaigns have been used to influence political agendas, and governments have responded with countermeasures. This article explores the phenomenon in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa using data from a two-wave online survey (N = 1847). We find that perceived exposure to disinformation is high, and that trust in social and national media is low. We also identify a significant relationship between higher levels of perceived exposure to disinformation and lower levels of media trust in South Africa. The limitations of this study, which focuses on a subset of the population that is highly educated, the implications of our findings, and recommendations for future research are discussed.